The Civilizing Influence Of The Mediæval Church -- By: William W. Sweet

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 071:283 (Jul 1914)
Article: The Civilizing Influence Of The Mediæval Church
Author: William W. Sweet


The Civilizing Influence Of The Mediæval Church

William W. Sweet

What the Middle Ages Started With “is the title of one of the early chapters in that illuminating book “Civilization During the Middle Ages,”1 by George Burton Adams. In this chapter he states that there were four sources from which was to come a new civilization. These sources were Greece, Rome, the Germans, and Christianity. Greece contributed her culture, literature, art, philosophy, and science; Rome gave her practical government, and law; the Barbarians added new blood and new institutions; and Christianity was the great heat, which welded these contributions and made them into a civilization.

One cannot make even a cursory study of the Middle Ages without being continually impressed with the importance of Christianity and the church, and the deeper one goes into that fascinating period the more that impression grows. Yet it is impossible to state just what influence Christianity has had upon any civilization, “for its operation lies in the realm of the silent and unobserved forces which act upon the individual character, and the springs of action, but which can, in the nature of the case, leave no record of themselves for later times.” But we can quite definitely trace the influence of the church as an institution, though we ought to bear con-

stantly in mind that Christian belief and the church as an institution are two different and distinct things. It is the church as an institution we plan to discuss here.

One great fact that must not be lost sight of, if one would have an understanding of the Middle Ages, is; that the mediaeval church, to a large degree, became the successor of the Roman Empire in western Europe, That is, as time went on, and as the empire became less and less capable of performing the functions of government, these were more and more assumed by the church, as an organization, — a governmental or political institution. It is also interesting to note that the government of the church was modeled after that of the Roman Empire, and the idea of universal dominion which prevailed , in the Roman Empire, was taken over by the church. Of course this transfer of power from the empire to the church was a long and gradual process. In the first two centuries after Christianity became the only recognized religion of the empire, the church and the imperial government were on a friendly footing of mutual respect and support. In these early centuries trie Popes recognized the supremacy of the temporal power, but when the imperial government no longer was able to give needed support and protection, and as the waves of barbarian ...

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